hospital, OB GYN, physician

Working the Holidays: The Invisible Heroes of Healthcare

No one wants to be sick around the holidays, or go into labor during Christmas Eve Service.  We are constantly reminded that we have no control over these things as emergencies arise 365 days a year and thankfully, there is always a place to seek help and someone who is ready to be of assistance.

The holidays are what remind us of what is important in life.  They are a time for gathering with family and friends when the otherwise hurried pace of life doesn’t usually leave time for a home cooked meal with Mom, chatting with cousins, or playing in the snow with kids.

Unfortunately, some people have to miss these precious moments- their jobs require it.

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If you walk through a hospital during Christmas, you will notice it to be eerily quiet.  Only patients with true emergencies will be there, and health care workers will be ready.

You will see a phlebotomist with a Santa hat on striking up a conversation with a patient while skillfully drawing their blood.  You will see a nurse comforting a woman in labor and a surgeon closing the incision from an appendectomy.  You will see a cafeteria worker flipping burgers and humming a song while he works, providing the sustenance to keep the rest of the team going through their 12-24 hour holiday shifts.

They are all happy to have their jobs, but they are missing their families immensely during this time.  Few professions require the dedication to work during a time when everyone else is tending to the people that make their lives meaningful.

Alternatively, some health care workers may have volunteered to work.  Perhaps the holidays are a particularly difficult time as they are acutely reminded of the loss of a loved one and the memories forged on these holidays in the past.  Working may provide a necessary and welcome distraction.

Regardless of the reason these people are working over the holiday, they are providing a desperately needed service- a service to others at the expense of their own families.  These actions are what remind us all of the need to take care of each other.

Thank you to all of the janitorial staff, medical assistants, nurses, phlebotomists, ultrasound techs, and doctors (to name just a few) who keep America’s hospitals running and care for our patients over the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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hpv, OB GYN, Parenting, vaccine

This Mom (and OB/GYN Doctor) Sounds Off on Whether Your Daughter Should Get the HPV Vaccine

My young daughter will be entering middle school in another year. However, she still likes coloring books. If she watches a scary movie, I have to lay with her in bed until she falls asleep.

She is still just a kid. Should I really be worried about HPV? Is this something you should consider for your daughter?

Most people know that the HPV virus is sexually transmitted. However, most people don’t think it could happen to their daughter. Unfortunately, more than 80% of the population has been exposed to the HPV virus during their lifetime. How is that possible?

Well, let’s assume your daughter has 1 lifetime sexual partner. Let’s pretend her future husband only had 1 girlfriend prior to meeting your daughter. However, maybe his previous girlfriend had 5 partners- and who knows how many exposures those 5 partners had.

Now it’s easy to see that you don’t have to be sexually promiscuous to be exposed to HPV. It could happen to anyone and often does. HPV is silent (there are often NO symptoms), and people don’t know they have it and therefore pass it on to others unknowingly.

As an ob-gyn doctor, I know about the HPV virus and have seen so many patients affected by this virus that can cause cervical cancer if left untreated. I have seen women die from cervical cancer caused by this virus. I have seen pregnant women who are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer have to decide whether to delay treatment or potentially risk their pregnancy by treating the disease.

Luckily, most of the time we can monitor the HPV virus through pap smears/hpv testing and never have to intervene as the body will often clear the virus on its own. Occasionally, treatment in the form of excisional procedures on the cervix are necessary to prevent progression to cervical cancer. If you have never seen a LEEP procedure done in the office, trust me, you want to spare your daughter from this if at all possible.

By the time a girl visits her ob-gyn’s office she may have already been exposed to HPV and we potentially missed an important opportunity to give the vaccine. This is due to the fact that we typically don’t see teens in the office unless they are having a problem, and we don’t start pap smear screening until age 21 (appropriately so).

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Pediatricians (and family practitioners) do a fantastic job of making sure our young girls are getting the vaccine when indicated. Currently, the vaccine can be given to girls between the ages of 9-26 years old. Most girls are vaccinated with the series at age 11 or 12. Remember, the point is to vaccinate far PRIOR to sexual activity. We don’t expect your 11 year old daughter to be sexually active.

On the other hand, I have had to do numerous procedures on patients in their 20’s who have precancerous lesions from the HPV virus. Most are shocked and terrified and don’t understand how this could have happened to them.

As a mother, I am just like any other parent who would do anything to prevent my child from suffering. I worry about risks and benefits of treatments (even preventative) and how they will affect my daughter. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to truly understand the research and risks behind this vaccine through extensive training in obstetrics and gynecology.

It is empowering to have access to a vaccine that can actually prevent cancer.

So, while the physician in me appreciates and understands the research and clinical implications this vaccine portends, when I counsel patients I find the mother in me also weighing in.

Since I do have a young daughter who I would do anything to protect, I can assuredly say that she will be getting her HPV vaccine when she turns 11. I want to know that I did my job as her mother to protect her when she can’t yet understand how this may impact her life down the road.